I've been fascinated by mushrooms since seeing warning placards about the deadly mushrooms that grew along the trails we frequented while living in California. I was convinced I'd never eat a wild harvested mushroom. As we will see, I still haven't, but I feel confident that I could identify at least one kind of wild mushroom.
Before we go any further, here is my standard warning about found mushrooms -- do not eat unless you are 100 percent sure you know what you have! People have died --recently -- from eating the wrong mushroom.
Morels are the holy grail of mushrooms for mycology enthusiasts. They only emerge during a short window in the spring and can be incredibly hard to find. Even Maxine Stone, who literally wrote the book on Missouri Mushrooms, says she doesn't find them every year.
There are lots of goodies besides morels though. Last fall I went on an outing with the friendly folks at the Missouri Mycological Society. We found lots and lots of mushrooms, some of which were edible. All were beautiful and fascinating.
Chanterelles and Chicken of the Woods are perhaps the most sought-after fall mushrooms. The ones pictured below were found by the Mycological Society folks in October at Hazlet State Park in Illinois.
Apparently the Chicken of the Woods taste like chicken. The woman who found them literally jumped for joy at the sight.
I chose not to eat any of the mushrooms I found with the mycological folks. Not that I don't trust them, but when the woman handed over some of the chicken-y mushrooms, she said, "some people get a stomach ache from these, so just eat a few first."
Morels are a different story. If you find them, they are extremely easy to identify. They don't really look that much like "false morels." And if the morel is hollow, it's definitely a morel.
We happened upon one lonely morel at Mastodon State Historic Site in March--early for morels. In late April my husband and I went to Emmenegger Park in Kirkwood to hunt. We found nothing but a tick biting on my back a few hours later.
Check out my article in Terrain Magazine for more about my foray with the mushroom experts and tips on morel hunting.